By Holly Evans
The 12th annual Keystone Conference, A Celebration of Gender Diversity, is now upon us. One of the largest conferences of its type, and it is held here in Harrisburg, Pa. This is not only the best educational and informative conference of its type, focused on transgender issues, it’s a time of fun and feeling good about yourself. A chance to see old friends.
This year’s conference will be held from March 25-29, 2020 at the Harrisburg Hershey Sheraton Inn. For more information go to keystone-conference.org.
If you are Trans female, it’s an opportunity to let your hair down, put on that special outfit, strap on your heels and simply be yourself. For the Trans Men, it’s a chance to learn about the latest advancements, be yourself and see plenty of friends as well.
Over the years of attending the Keystone Conference I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know so many wonderful loving and caring people.
I remember learning of the conference and how I looked forward to attending for the first time. I remember walking into the hotel for my first conference and being both nervous and excited all at once. Everywhere I looked I saw so many others like myself who’s story sounded so familiar.
I could not believe that I had found a place where so many people, like myself gathered, to have fun, to learn about the issues we face as transgender individuals and to learn that we don’t need to face these alone.
Keystone is where I learned of the resources out there to help me and others like myself.
Not only was I able to learn more about makeup, clothing and nails, I found workshops on things such as the history of transgender individuals in society, electrolysis treatments, traveling while trans.
And though I was not living full time as a transgender woman at the time, I learned that it was ok to fly across this country as my authentic self, and how to prepare so that I could. It was at Keystone where I learned how to have my name legally changed, including having my drivers licensed or my social security card information changed to reflect who I truly was, if I so desired.
In addition to the various workshops, the conference provides numerous venders focused on a wide range of issues which are of interest to the transgender community. These include representatives from places such as ACLU and NGLCC, to provide information on legal matters and employment advice. Other vendors such as therapists, doctors and medical personnel focusing on helping those who wish to have surgical procedures to assist them with their transition. Other venders focus on teaching attendees with their presentation or voice.
When I attended my first conference, not only did I find workshops and educational opportunities, I found this surrounded in an atmosphere of fun and excitement. To learn that there was so much interest in such a conference that we commandeered the entire hotel for the week and that we even needed to expand to the neighboring hotels as there were so many people interested in attending.
I was amazed at all the social activities that Keystone had planned for us and how it allowed me to get out and experience things that I never thought possible.
We would travel by bus to local restaurants in the Harrisburg area for dinner with other transgender individuals. Local retailers would work with the conference organizers to create an open and inviting atmosphere for many of the first-time attendees and arrange special shopping hours.
Buses would then take groups of guests out shopping who otherwise could not get out to shop at home or were afraid to shop on their own.
This provided a safe, secure experience to try on new clothes and find that special outfit. I know that I grew so much that year and had so much fun at my first conference that I didn’t want it to end. I remember staying up late talking and sharing stories with the new friends I made and that I didn’t want to go to sleep.
And when the conference was over, and it was time to go home, I could not wait for the next Keystone Conference to start.
Every year since attending my first conference, when I return, I get the opportunity to meet new people like myself, who are attending their first conference and seeing the excitement in their eyes. That excitement of the first-time attendees learning about so much in such a short time.
Knowing that for many, they are finally having the opportunity to be their true authentic self; to see them open and grow as individuals, learning that it is ok to be transgender.
For me it’s always a joy seeing old friends and catching up, especially with those I only get to see once a year. But this is just a part of why I continue to go back.
For me now, the biggest reason I continue to return is to know that at Keystone I can help others just as those before helped me; that I can give back to the transgender community; That through Keystone I can touch the lives and help so many more people in such a positive way. I can help those who are finally coming to understand what they have been dealing with all their lives.
If you are transgender and can attend the Keystone conference this year, please try to attend. If you have been there before, then you know all about the educational programs, the social activities, the friends you make and all the fun times.
I look forward to seeing you.
Holly Evans is president of TransCentral PA. She wrote this piece for the Central Voice, where it first appeared.